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Brussels, 9 December 2011

Signature of the Accession Treaty of the European Union (EU) with Croatia: background note

Today EU and Croatian leaders have signed Croatia's EU Accession Treaty. Subject to the Treaty's ratification by all Member States and Croatia, the country will become the 28th Member State of the European Union on 1 July 2013.

The Accession Treaty has been signed by the 27 Heads of State and Government and by the Croatian President and Prime Minister. Following the signature each Member State proceeds now with the ratification of the Treaty in accordance with their national provisions.

Croatia has announced that it will hold a referendum on the ratification of the EU accession treaty in early 2012.

During the interim period between the signature of the Accession Treaty and the actual date of accession the work on Croatia's preparations for EU membership continues.

Croatia needs to complete the remaining implementation of the commitments taken during the accession negotiations. Through the closing of accession negotiations and by finalising the Accession Treaty, Member States have given a mandate to the European Commission to carefully monitor the progress Croatia is making in all the areas covered.

The Accession Treaty includes provisions which allow for appropriate measures to be taken in case problems are identified during the monitoring process.

Until its accession, Croatia will have an active observer status in most of the Council working groups as well as Commission committees. This allows Croatia to become familiar with the working methods of the EU institutions and to become involved in the decision-making process.

Information on the results of the EU accession negotiations with Croatia

Any country that wishes to join the European Union (EU) must meet specific political and economic criteria and must incorporate all the EU's laws and standards into its national law. As from the date it is expected to join on 1 July 2013, the EU acquis, or the body of EU laws and standards, will apply to Croatia, in the same way as it is binding on all Member States.

In some areas the European Union and Croatia have nonetheless negotiated specific arrangements to enable the country's smooth integration into the EU. The most important of these are set out below and relate to freedom of movement for workers, free movement of capital, competition policy, financial services, transport and internal borders. Where transitional periods have been agreed, they are limited in time and scope. The duration of these arrangements is different for different policy areas, and are detailed in the answers to questions below.

The so-called 'safeguard clauses', which allow the Union to remedy difficulties encountered as a result of accession, last in principle for three years. The safeguard clauses are a general economic safeguard clause, an internal market safeguard clause, and a home affairs safeguard clause.

What transitional arrangements apply to freedom of movement for workers?

The following measures relating to the freedom of Croatian workers to move to other EU Member States have been agreed:

  • For a two year period EU Member States can choose restrict the right of Croatians to work in their country, or in particular sectors.

  • These arrangements will be reviewed after two years, with Member States allowed to extend national measures for a further period. The transitional arrangement should in principle come to an end after five years but may be extended for a further two years in those Member States where putting an end to the arrangement would lead to serious disturbances to the labour market or where there would be a threat of such disruption.

Austria and Germany have the right to apply certain measures in case of disruption to specific sensitive service sectors, where there is cross-border provision of services in certain regions.

Croatia may apply restrictions to other EU workers equivalent to the national measures applied by the respective Member State.

What specific arrangements apply to the free movement of capital?

  • Croatia may maintain certain restrictions on the acquisition of agricultural land by EU nationals for seven years from the date of accession, with the possibility of a three year extension.

  • Restrictions on the acquisition of real estate, by citizens of third countries, which existed in Croatia on 31 December 2002, may be maintained.

What specific arrangements apply to competition policy?

The restructuring and privatisation of shipyards in difficulty in Croatia must be carried out in line with conditions agreed with the EU. After Croatia has joined the EU, the Commission will be empowered to order Croatia to recover restructuring aid granted since 2006 to shipyards in difficulty where these conditions have not been respected.

After Croatia has joined the EU, the Commission will be empowered to order Croatia to recover state aid granted to steel producer CMC Sisak if the company has not reimbursed it by the date of accession.

What specific arrangements apply to financial services?

The EU has agreed to the Croatian request to exempt credit unions from the full application of the Capital Requirements Directive [add reference]. Credit unions that have a long tradition in Croatia of providing banking services to craftsman and other individuals. The Croatian authorities will supervise Credit Unions on the basis of specific national legislation.

What transitional arrangements apply to transport policy?

For road transport, for the first two years following the accession of Croatia, companies established in Croatia will be excluded from cabotage, or the operation of transport services exclusively within the borders of another Member State. The same exception will apply in Croatia for operators from other Member States. This transitional period can be extended by up to two years.

For maritime transport, cruise services by ships smaller than 650 tonnes between Croatian ports will be reserved to Croatian ships operated by Croatian shipping companies until end 2014.

What transitional arrangements apply to justice, freedom and security policy?

EU membership obliges Croatia to participate in the Schengen Area, or the area of free movement without border controls within most of the EU. However, the lifting of internal border controls will not take place immediately when Croatia joins the EU, but afterwards, following a separate and unanimous decision by the Council of the EU, taking into account a Commission report confirming that Croatia still fulfils the commitments undertaken in its accession negotiations that are relevant for the Schengen acquis.

A further transitional measure allows Croatia to maintain its joint border crossing points with Bosnia and Herzegovina until the Schengen Borders Code is amended or until Croatia joins Schengen, whichever comes first.

Are there other exceptions?

Exceptions have also been negotiated for free movement of goods (relating to market authorisations for medicinal products), intellectual property law, agriculture (phasing in of the EU agricultural payments system, and variation of some agricultural quotas), animal health and food safety, fisheries, taxation (VAT and excise duties), regional policy (management of Structural Funds), environment (transitional periods in several areas) and customs union.

What are the safeguard clauses?

There are three safeguards clauses in the Accession Treaty: a general economic safeguard clause, a specific internal market safeguard clause and a specific justice and home affairs (JHA) safeguard clause. They are designed to deal with difficulties that might be encountered as Croatia adjusts to its responsibilities and rights as an EU member.

The general economic safeguard clause aims to deal with adjustment difficulties which an economic sector or area in either old or new member states might experience. The internal market safeguard clause covers all sectoral policies involving economic activities that take place across borders, and can also be invoked in case of threats to the financial interests of the EU. The JHA safeguard clause covers mutual recognition in the area of criminal law and civil matters.

Both the internal market and the JHA safeguard clauses may be applied vis-à-vis Croatia only. Safeguard measures may be taken under these three clauses for a period of three years after accession, but the clauses may remain in force beyond this period. However, any safeguard measure shall be maintained no longer than is strictly necessary and must be proportional in scope and duration.

Safeguard measures could include protective measures taken by Member States, or the suspension of specific rights under the EU acquis directly related to the shortcomings of a new Member State.

How will Croatia's adherence to commitments be monitored?

The Commission will closely monitor all commitments made by Croatia in the accession negotiations, including those that must be achieved before or by the date of accession. It will focus in particular on commitments made by Croatia in the area of the judiciary and fundamental rights, including judicial reform, impartial handling of war crimes cases and the fight against corruption. In addition, the Commission's monitoring will focus on justice, freedom and security policy, including the implementation and enforcement of Union requirements with respect to external border management, police cooperation, the fight against organised crime and judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters. Competition policy commitments will also be monitored, including the restructuring of the shipbuilding industry and the steel sector.

Acting by qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, the Council may take all appropriate measures if issues of concern are identified during the monitoring process. The measures will be maintained no longer than strictly necessary and will be lifted by the Council when the relevant issues of concern have been effectively addressed.


The process of preparing for Croatia's accession started in February 2003 when Croatia made its formal application for EU Membership. The European Commission examined Croatia's application and gave a positive opinion in 2004, recommending the opening of accession negotiations. In the same year the European Union granted Croatia the status of a candidate country.

In 2005, accession negotiations started with the screening of Croatia's legislation to identify where modifications were needed to ensure compliance with EU norms and rules. Administrative capacity was analysed in each sector, and an important set of reforms leading to alignment with EU law were kicked off in all the areas of accession negotiations.

The accession negotiations were based on a new approach, with a stronger focus on the rule of law and strict conditions for both opening and closing the negotiating chapters. This approach helped to set the right priorities in all sectors, assisting Croatia to gradually comply with the requirements to become a fully prepared Member State. The accession negotiations were concluded on 30 June 2011. On 12 October 2011, the European Commission adopted its favourable opinion on Croatia's accession to the European Union.

The Accession Treaty was drafted based on the outcome of the accession negotiations before being translated into all official EU languages and Croatian.

The European Parliament gave its consent on 1 December and the Council took a decision on Croatia's application on 5 December 2011; enabling the signature to take place on 9 December 2011.


June 2000: The Feira European Council states that all the countries involved in the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) are "potential candidates" for EU membership

June 2003 - Thessaloniki European Council confirms the accession perspective of Western Balkans countries, including Croatia

February 2003: Croatia submits its EU membership application

April 2004: The European Commission issues a positive opinion on Croatia’s application for EU membership and recommends the opening of accession negotiations

June 2004: Croatia obtains the status of candidate country

1 February 2005: Entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU

3 October 2005: Start of accession negotiations

30 June 2011: An Inter-Governmental Conference closes the accession negotiations

12 October 2011: The European Commission adopts a favourable opinion on Croatia's accession to the EU

1 December 2011: The European Parliament gives its consent to the accession of Croatia

9 December 2011: Signature of the Accession Treaty

1 July 2013: Accession of Croatia, subject to the ratification of the Accession Treaty

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